By: Women's Justice Initiative ||
Setting Precedents: WJI’s Legal Team Triumphs in School Sexual Abuse Case
In many of the rural, indigenous communities where WJI works, sexism and discrimination often prevent survivors of violence from reporting abuse or accessing the legal system. Guatemala has some of the highest rates of impunity for violence against women in the world - 98% of sexual assault and femicide cases go unpunished. In 2022, WJI's legal team won an unprecedented judgment for an 11-year old girl, who was a survivor of sexual assault. The case demonstrated to the survivor and the community that the law can be a powerful tool, and that sexual abusers can be held accountable for their crimes.
WJI recently represented an11-year old girl who was sexually abused by her teacher.
Upon learning about the assault from her daughter, the mother immediately reported it to the school director. Instead of taking action, the school pressured her to stay silent. Individuals approached her with bribes trying to convince her not to report the assault. But she had no intention of being silenced by her daughter’s abuser and sought assistance from WJI.
With WJI's support and legal accompaniment, the mother and daughter formally reported the crime to the prosecutor's office. Throughout the trial the mother and daughter faced criticism and were ostracized by their community. They were told to leave their family home, and the mother was ridiculed for “exaggerating” what happened to her daughter. Her daughter faced bullying at school and each court hearing proved emotionally taxing. Many times, the mother wondered if the court process was worth it.
But with WJI’s support, the mother and daughter stood firm in their decision to seek justice. WJI’s legal team provided comprehensive legal support, including accompaniment to collect and submit evidence for the trial, coaching for witness cross examination, legal advice related to process, and referrals to receive psychological counseling. The mother credits WJI’s emotional and legal support as the reason they continued with the trial despite all of the backlash they received.
In October 2022, the court found the teacher guilty and sentenced him to 11 years in prison, the maximum sentence for the crime. The defendant was ordered to pay reparations to the survivor. The judge also mandated that the local Ministry of Education train administrators, teachers, students, and parents on recognizing and reporting sexual violence.
"This case shows that through the justice system, we can provide fair reparations to survivors of violence. It is also a precedent for the municipality, [demonstrating] that sexual violence is not permissible, that the justice system will punish sexual offenders. We hope to show girls that their rights will be respected.”
Viviana Pata, WJI’s Legal Director
Since the judgment, the defendant has filed an appeal. WJI will continue to represent the survivor’s family and support the prosecution throughout the appeal process.